Greening Effort Only Goes So Far

Chambers Resist Formalizing Initiative

Posted October 20, 2009 at 6:22pm

Since Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) entered office in 2007, she has pushed a slew of greening projects, prompting building renovations, sustainable practices in House cafeterias and a switch to natural gas in the Capitol Power Plant.

But so far, the Green the Capitol Initiative is a nonstatutory program that exists only at the Speaker’s whim. Replace Pelosi, and the whole program might dissolve.

A new report from the Congressional Research Service lays out ways to make the program more stable, including establishing a bipartisan commission to oversee greening efforts or passing a resolution to make the Green the Capitol Initiative more official. But it seems unlikely that such ideas will ever come to fruition.

House and Senate officials in interviews this week were lukewarm about formalizing the program, with Democrats claiming the current system is successful and Republicans bemoaning any expansion to an effort they see as flawed.

“We value the recommendations laid out in the report,— said Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi. But “we’re very happy with the progress the program has made.—

Responsibility for greening Congress’ buildings is spread out among several entities in the House and Senate. In the House, Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard heads up most efforts — with backing from Pelosi — and works with the Architect of the Capitol’s office on any renovations to Congressional buildings. In the Senate, the AOC takes the lead, following directions from the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

The CRS report mentions the Senate’s lack of a centralized program, suggesting a “Green the Senate— initiative that “could allow the Senate to create energy and cost savings programs that cover administrative functions not typically covered by the Architect.—

But Brian Fallon, spokesman for Rules Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), argued that such a formalized program isn’t needed and pointed to a long list of greening actions, including the purchase of thousands of Energy Star computers, solar panels to power some street lamps and hybrid vehicles. The chamber also just began a composting program, where officials will place bins in the offices of willing Senators for any organic material that can be composted.

“The Senate has a greening initiative that is ongoing and successful,— Fallon said. “It isn’t branded with a label because it is an integrated part of everything we do.—

Indeed, the Senate and the House have accomplished similar goals: composting in the cafeterias, installing more energy-friendly light bulbs and planning green roofs, for example. Much of the work has been noncontroversial, but House Republicans have loudly criticized some of the bigger projects, such as the House’s purchase of carbon offsets in 2007 and Beard’s plan to replace the lighting on the Capitol Dome.

If the House created a formal greening initiative through a resolution, it could include “input from both the minority and majority,— according to the CRS report. But even Republicans are against such a plan.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said the Green the Capitol Initiative is already problematic and shouldn’t be expanded.

“At a time when more than three million jobs have been lost since the Democrats’ trillion dollar ‘stimulus,’ it’s reckless to spend taxpayers’ money on ‘feel good’ greening initiatives that increase, rather than lower, the cost of operating the Capitol,— he said in an e-mail.

Another suggestion in the report — to set up an “Independent Greening Commission— — also wasn’t well-received. With limited cooperation between the House and Senate, the panel would “coordinate greening activities— between the chambers, as well as set long-term goals. But House officials pointed out that the CAO already works closely with the AOC, which is responsible for the entire Capitol complex.

Still, Republicans have complained in the past that they are sometimes kept out of the loop. In 2008, for example, the CAO committed to spending about $600,000 a year on greening efforts in House cafeterias without clearing it with the House Administration Committee — a move that irked committee Republicans.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Dan Lungren, who became the committee’s ranking member in 2009, said the California Republican is interested in keeping abreast of greening issues but not in creating another layer of bureaucracy.

Lungren “doesn’t feel that we need yet another commission,— spokeswoman Salley Collins said. “However, he does believe that the CAO should generate written reports for both the oversight committee, as well as for the general public, about any upcoming projects.—